Inmate tattoos and the economy go hand-in-hand.

So says Kaitlyn Wolf, a doctoral candidate in economics at West Virginia University, who has linked the odd pairing together in her research.

Wolf’s research, Investigating the Relationship between Visible Tattoos and Recidivism Rates, caught the eye of organizers of the 5th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, a gathering of Nobel economics laureates from all over the world. The Meeting will provide lectures, master classes and panel discussions featuring economists from all over the world.

In other words, Wolf will get to rub elbows with the world’s top economists and scholars, including John Nash, the West Virginia mathematician who was the subject of “A Beautiful Mind.”

Wolf, of Braddock Heights, Maryland, was chosen as one of 460 young economists from more than 80 countries to participate in the global conference, held August 19-23 in Lindau, Germany.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet people at the top of my field,” Wolf said. “I’m very grateful that my advisors, the economics department and the National Research Center for Coal and Energy helped me get this far.”

Wolf was nominated through WVU’s partnership with Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which is funding her trip. NRCCE Director Richard Bajura is the WVU coordinator for Oak Ridge.

“Urban economics looks at how crime affects individuals and recidivism. If we’re paying $50 a day to house each prisoner, that adds up if people are going back in if they’ve already been through the system.” – Kait Wolf

“This meeting has a record number of Nobel laureates participating,” Bajura said. “We were extremely excited to hear that Kait was chosen. She’s an outstanding doctoral candidate here at WVU and will join an elite international group of young economists in Germany.”

Bajura said being chosen for a Lindau award is extremely competitive with a long list of international nomination institutions such as Harvard, Oxford and the International Monetary Fund putting forth names.

Wolf’s doctoral research has focused on how visible tattoos influence recidivism rates.

While, at first glance, there may not be an obvious connection between the topic and economics, Wolfe has shown a correlation.

“Urban economics looks at how crime affects individuals and recidivism,” she explained. “If we’re paying $50 a day to house each prisoner, that adds up if people are going back in if they’ve already been through the system.”

Tattoos can also influence employment trends.

“If two ex-cons interview for a job and one has a face tattoo and the other one doesn’t, then the one without the face tattoo is more likely to be hired,” Wolf said.

For her studies, Wolf has relied on data from Florida. That state keeps a list regarding inmate tattoos, which includes information such as where a tattoo is located and a description of the tattoo.

Her conclusion: Inmates with visible tattoos return to incarceration faster and more often than inmates without tattoos.

Wolf’s mentors believe her inclusion in the Lindau Meeting elevates her future even more.

“Kait has worked hard, has a professional attitude, and will be a great representative for WVU at the Meetings,” said Amanda Ross, assistant professor of economics.

Kait Wolf is just one of two WVU students to be invited to a Lindau Meeting in recent years.

“Kait was my teaching assistant for my principles of microeconomics course a few years ago,” she said. “One of the things I offer my TAs is the opportunity to work on a co-authored project with me. Kait took this opportunity and ran with it, something not all students do. She put in hours teaching herself how to write programing code, learning the literature and putting together a quality research paper.”

Wolf’s dream job is to teach college-level economics.

“I think Kait has a bright future ahead, both in terms of producing quality research and excelling in the classroom,” Ross said. “I know the students loved her when she was my TA, so I know she will do well teaching courses on her own.”

Wolf is only one of two WVU students to attend a Lindau meeting in recent years.

In 2010, Jerry Carr Jr. was one of 75 graduate students selected to attend the 60th annual Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates. Carr was a plasma physics doctoral student.



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